If you don’t know who Fleming and John are, I wouldn’t be suprised (speaking as a Brit who is still, just about, in his twenties). They are a couple who wrote wicked music back in the mid to late 90s in Nashville, Tennessee and generally keep themselves busy in the music biz doing a variety of other cool things.
I’d heard Ugly Girl before:
But it was a few years ago when a random internet radio station played ‘Sadder Day’ (song will play on the embedded player below) featuring all manner of instruments from a theremin to a Spacephone that one of my “favourite ever song” slots was filled. It’s deeply poignant and yet twirly and upbeat – which makes it drill that much further into your head. It was recorded in their homebuilt studio using what they describe in their promo video for the album the song appears on ‘The Way We Are’ as being more or less all the instruments. It is a wonderful homage to a time when instruments were recorded and creativity required more than a computer (I don’t say that to be cynical – it’s just when there are bigger, more expensive obstacles to climb to realise a creative vision then it has a natural way of separating the wheat from the chaff). Knowing a little of the back story also allows it to grow into a colourful emotive celebration of music.
Some lyrics from the wonderful song (go and buy it):
What about the day you took me to Skatetown USA
It was raining and there wasn't anywhere we could play
We skated backwards as we held on to each other's hand
Made up choreographer to K.C. and the Sunshine Band
You got tired and said you couldn't sleep last night
You stayed up praying for everybody you knows souls
Then you got misty eyed when you said you weren't afraid to die but you were scared of being alone
Sad, Sadder day
Since I heard you went away
Sad, Sadder day
When I can't see your face
If you live in the States you probably get to stream it on Spotify, but I’m unable to here in the UK.
So, I make no promises that the embedded song below is not going to steal your groceries or break your computer – but I clicked it and it worked, so for those without US Spotify, enjoy!
The Staves played the last show of their pre-album launch tour to a warm and well attended J1/ The Junction, Cambridge. The Staves have been around a while now but have only more recently reached my radar. They did this through their 2014 Blood I Bled EP – cue the first subversion of the night: a joke about The Staves merchandise including tampons for the tour.
I am helpless in front of tangential stimulation and the three Staveley-Taylors were full of inspiration in that regard. From a passing comment about pre-ordering being ‘the way’ that one has to buy albums these days I detected a slash of label politics in the background. Add to that the assumption of them being of typical folk persuasion their relevance in a fickle world of music, sub cultures, ‘coolness’ and identity and I would imagine you would have label executives grimacing with potential pounds trickling from their grasp. They’re not exactly unattractive women – put it that way. Thankfully though they aren’t often compared to The Corrs. Ever ‘meta’, they alluded to the idiocy of all such discourse – if you can call it that – including a “fuck Bush!” as well as a gently sardonic promise to be playing not only new (unreleased) material that we’ve clearly not heard before but also their “greatest hits”.
Their forever-place in my heart was set.
The music, including identifiable perfect triple harmonising was polished, practised and brilliant. The rockier newer material had a serious groove, the gentle intimate acoustic songs where the other two gathered around Camilla’s mic ebbed and flowed into the audience. Their appearance could easily be described as demure (though thankfully they are happy to usurp that label) and ethereal yet more than that their performance imparted a true authenticity, beautiful music that spoke from a modern woman’s soul.
It was a great gig. Full of well refined sass, familial unison and a melting of sweetness with banter to produce one of the best sets for not only music, but talking; conversation and discussion between themselves and with the crowd. It was wonderful and a real breath of fresh air after having watched a few shows in recent years where there is no effort whatsoever to engage the crowd. I watched Band of Skulls a few years ago and between every song they allowed for a huge tuning break where they did not talk to the audience at all. It totally killed the vibe. Far from that, The Staves increased the wonder of the event by really, truly, engaging with the audience. Well into the set, Emily introduced the backing band, and Camilla, and somewhere along the line they moved on before she introduced Jessica (the rockier looking one of the three whom I noted in the crowd had attained the label, from a group of men, of the “fittest”) who kindly exclaimed “Oh I have to introduce myself then?” Later Emily turned to the other two and genuinely thanked them for a wonderful tour – to which the others seemed genuinely touched, but in an understated, taken-for-granted sisterly way. It was beautiful to see not just their utmost professionalism with their musicianship, but also their relationship play out before us: Jessica with the electric guitar, Emily with the keyboard setup as the eldest, and Camilla (Milly) the youngest, with an understated beauty, long luscious hair and faintly awkward smile.
They were very, truly absorbing and performed a brilliant set of exceptionally good music.
Blue Note Records is 75. It is a true trunk in music history, as iconic as the 1970s punk movement, as enduring as The Beatles and as stylish as House music. Whilst nowadays, and on their 75th anniversary, they’re owned by the Universal Music Group, on its founding it was recording traditional and small band swing.
Blue Note Records label
One of the original pressings were in black and pink because of an error by the printers (it was supposed to be blue and magenta). Apparently, those original records are worth a fortune nowadays – oh the irony. Blue Note did not miss out its share of difficulties. Corporate acquisitions happened, founders left, artistic integrity was questioned and I can’t say I have even one album on my shelves released between 1970 and 2000. Whilst it once held a part of the pie in what, really, was popular music, the label seems (in retrospect) to have at that time been an artefact of the previous generation. Soul was king and then was hip hop. Culturally the label has ridden a tough wave but endured.
The label came back into vogue after the generational counter-cultural reactionary movements by way of the mid 1990s acid jazz movement characterised by bands like Brand New Heavies (think compressed drum machines and slightly too much reverb) and the band US3 (whom sampled Herbie Hancocks famous piano riff from Cantaloupe Island which I have to be controversial and say sounds better there than in the original context).
It was not just hip hop that sampled the back catalogue though. St Germain had the doors thrown open and the brilliant lounge-y electro album Tourist sees a complete album based on some brilliant stuff in the Blue Note Records archives in a period of time where the vogue was heralded by artists like Kruder & Dorfmeister who created lushious stoned electro in Vienna.
Blue Note Records have always had the ability to be relevant. Alongside these releases the Rudy Van Gelder remasters of classic Blue Note Records albums on CD at affordable prices in trendy stores like Fopp kept that ball rolling and perhaps more importantly, expanded the cultural ‘ownership’ away from a middle-class middle-aged audience (whom must have kept the label alive in the wilderness years – kudos) into the pockets of a younger audience.
In Febuary 2002 Norah Jones’ debut “Come Away with Me” was single handedly responsible for melting this (then) 16 year old boy’s heart and causing him to fall hopelessly in love with her smokey, ageless voice and brown-eyed beauty (and many hundreds of thousands of others with its 26 million copies sold).
Madlib’s “Shades of Blue” pushed further the revival of the label’s spirit and image, pushing past a lot of irrelevance. Artists like Robert Glasper and Jose James have managed to straddle the fence dividing the purist and the contemporary crowds, perhaps by not being that high in the mainstream’s attention. Though for that see Gregory Porter – he has had a real surge into the mainstream largely thanks to a wonderfully acceptable image of being simultaneously twee yet self-aware, plus a writer and performer of such beautiful music. That brings us to my most favoured recent jazz album Rising Son by Takuya Kuroda an artist with as much money making potential (being Japanese born and NYC educated) as he has style and skill.
The one thing I always felt was slightly strange about Blue Note Records was that despite having the most supremely talented jazz musicians in history gracing their discography none of three or four of the most historic, era defining, and widely known jazz albums were released by the label: A Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (Colombia, 1959); A Love Supreme by John Coltrane (Impulse! Records, 1964); Time Out by Dave Brubeck (Colombia, 1959); and Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock (Colombia, 1973). So the legacy is rather strange. The widely recognised and cult cover art and the focus on jazz when other successul labels like Colombia did not, belies the lack of historic figure-head albums. Yet something about the label just says timeless and probably always will. Perhaps it is simply because of its focus and integrity at the right time. (For the most part) it is not style over substance, either.